Birth of a Business
A year or so ago, deep in the throes of a hot sauce addiction - where I would add increasingly fiery sauce to my dishes to cover up my lazy, undersalted cooking (something I no longer suffer from to the same degree) - I became interested in the prospect of making my own hot sauce.
Meanwhile, two public culinary figures - Brad Leone and Joshua Weissman - had piqued my interest in fermentation. I began filling mason jars with fruits, peppers, and brine, and experimenting. I lacto-fermented blueberries, habaneros, fresnos, mangos, pineapples, et cetera., and combined the results or enjoyed them separately. I learned about the resulting funky flavors, and the inescapable saltiness the brine would leave behind in the fruits.
It’s not hard to see where these two moderately disparate interests met in the middle. My first ever batch of hot sauce was not fermented - it was made from oven-roasted vegetables boiled in vinegar then blended together. It was unpalatable, and it filled the kitchen with noxious vinegar fumes. It was this that led me to more research on production methods, and I learned that fermentation could take the place of heat-processing the fruits and vegetables that go into a sauce, meaning I didn’t have to deal with any boiling vinegar, and would add that certain funk that comes courtesy of the fermentation process. This brought me back to the kitchen to combine my recent interests, and to produce my first fermented hot sauce.
I experimented with very small batches of hot sauce in bursts of activity after work days or on weekend mornings, and gave out my few bottles to friends and family to try. I often didn’t love the resulting product - it was very different from the hot sauce I was used to buying off the grocery store shelves. But I incorporated feedback and continued experimenting. There are infinity combinations of fermenting times, brine percentages, fruit combinations, post-fermentation processing, spicing, and other variables with which to tweak the final flavor of a sauce, so I had a lot to learn and a lot of opportunities for experimentation.
Fast forward about a year...
When I was introduced to my friend's room-mate - the other Ben - I soon discovered the jars of fermenting garlic and canned pickling projects hidden around his kitchen. I began to pester him relentlessly with my ideas of building some sort of condiment-based partnership, and he shared my enthusiasm. Furthermore, there were many fundamentals we shared:
The Tenets of Our Business
There are several things we agreed on about how we want to run our business. We don't want to race into profitability, or focus on profit margins, scalability, or other things a typical startup might. We don't want to post glistening, hyper-researched social media posts that tap into a consumer's psychology. We just want to make really good condiments and share them with the people around us, and try to build something that can fit in to the local Chicago community in a very natural way.
We want to integrate with our surroundings - to us, this means trying to source from local growers, sell to local people, push sauce at local farmers markets, and give back to the community, in the same realm of food. It just makes a hell of a lot of sense.
Now, in our infancy, we are figuring things out - we are a long way from firmly establishing the vision of our goal, but we're getting on our feet and finding our way from here.